ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 21: Outfielder Sam Fuld #5 of the Tampa Bay Rays catches a foul ball against the Chicago White Sox during the game at Tropicana Field on April 21, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
I know I am getting ahead of myself here but as a big Sam Fuld fan I have been holding onto this article for a while now, waiting for his sample sizes to get to a more respectable level. I cannot hold out much longer.
With the high-probability that B.J. Upton leaves the Tampa Bay Rays via free agency this offseason it leaves an opening in the outfield, most likely in left field with Desmond Jennings moving over to center field. Jennings' overall production with the glove, bat, and base running will be difficult to replicate but Sam Fuld may be the best option the Rays have, both internally and externally.
Jennings is currently sitting at 3.3 fWAR thanks to a .327 wOBA, wRC+ of 110, BsR of +3.2, and UZR of +9.4. With just under a month left in the season, and Jennings riding a hot streak, it is a real possibility he crosses the +4.0 fWAR mark before the season is over. His value is currently higher than Upton's and he has the potential for much more and is a viable option to replace Upton without losing value.
But now who replaces Jennings in left feild then? Enter Sam Fuld. He may not possess the power potential or overall talent that Jennings and Upton have but he is much more valuable than most people think.
Over Fuld's career he has amassed about a season's worth of plate appearances, 581 to be exact, and during his time with the Rays he has amassed what would be a left-handed platoon player's amount of plate appearances at 426.
In Fuld's career he has been worth 3.0 fWAR with a +11.3 UZR and +2.8 BsR while posting a .316 wOBA and 97 wRC+. Not too shabby. But during his time with the Rays he has been worth +2.5 fWAR overall with a .316 wOBA and 98 wRC+ and +2.7 BsR while posting a +10.6 UZR playing all three outfield positions with a remarkable +9.7 UZR and 13 Defensive Runs Saved (DSR) in 665.1 left field innings. If you expand his left field UZR over a 150 game span you would get a UZR/150 of roughly +19.5-20. He would likely be in line to win a Fielding Bible Award.
The other internal options would be Brandon Guyer, Rich Thompson, or to promote a guy like Mikie Mahtook very early. I'd rather stick with Fuld and if Fuld needs a platoon partner Guyer could be a great option who could also play right field when Joyce needs a night off against left-handed pitching.
But maybe you think he is not the answer. Let's take a look at the potential free agent market this coming offseason according to Cot's:
Curtis Granderson *
Ryan Ludwick *
Juan Rivera *
Luke Scott *
It will cost the Tampa Bay Rays a heckuva lot to replace the type of production needed to maintain their outfield value via the free agent market. The starting options all look like they will be too expensive for the Rays to afford. Like every other offseason, the Rays will likely be looking to add a platoon or bench player out of this group rather than a starter with right-handed batters who can hit left-handed pitching and play the field some being the top target.
Reed Johnson has a career +20.5 UZR/150 in left field but has been -0.9 over the past two seasons in limited duty. He also has a career .363 wOBA against left-handed pitching in his career. He could be a platoon option.
Andruw Jones is another option with a +8.4 UZR in left field in 722.2 innings since 2009 including a +4.2 this year with a 1.000 RZR. The man can still play some defense. Jones has a career .354 wOBA versus left-handed pitching.
At the right price Scott Hairston, Cody Ross, and Jonny Gomes could also be options for the Rays. And, if word on Angel Pagan has not gotten out, he could be an option as a starter, although I bet he gets a fair deal somewhere this offseason.
Fuld, by himself, or with a right-handed platoon partner, could very possibly post a +4.0 fWAR season. The Rays will miss Upton next season but they may just be ok because the Rays may have the best options already in house to replace his production.